National governments should offer their under-25s a guarantee of work, training or full-time education, according to MEPs and the European Commission.
Under the Youth Guarantee scheme backed by MEPs on Wednesday (16 January), all under-25s and recent graduates under 30 would be guaranteed on of the three options within four months of becoming unemployed or finishing their studies.
MEPs also want the European Social Fund (ESF) to be used to finance the scheme, calling for at least 25 percent of structural funds to be allocated to the ESF in a bid to ease the financing burden faced by national governments.
The parliament says the scheme would help the EU meet targets in its Europe 2020 strategy by increasing youth employment, reducing early school-leaving rates to below 10 percent and by ending poverty for 20 million Europeans.
Speaking during the debate in Strasbourg on Monday evening, Pervenche Beres, the Socialist chair of the employment committee, called on lawmakers to "take all opportunities to make sure that this is not a lost generation." She addd that it is "unacceptable that a young person can be without a job, training or schooling."
Employment commissioner Laszlo Andor said the EU executive is ready to make "substantial financial contributions from the European Social Fund and the other EU structural funds" to pay for youth "investments."
But Hungarian centre-right deputy, Csaba Ory, noted that the commission had "put forward a number of initiatives that use the same appropriations, meaning that the member states are left in the lurch."
Youth unemployment has soared since the start of the financial crisis, with the four EU bailout countries among the hardest hit. Unemployment of under-25s is over 50 percent in Greece and Spain and stands at 23 percent across the EU as a whole - twice the rate of the adult population.
There are currently 7.5 million under-25s in the EU who are not in work, training or education.
Some studies put the cost of the situation is €53 billion a year, equivalent to 1.2 percent of the EU's GDP. Research by Eurofound, an EU agency dealing with living and working conditions, has indicated that 30 percent of unemployed under-25s have been out of work for at least a year.
Member states first agreed on the youth scheme in 2005, then tinkered with the details in 2008. But the commission says its repeated complaints on non-implementation in 2010, 2011 and 2012 had no effect.
The issue is to be discussed at a meeting of EU employment ministers in Dublin next month.